Just what in the hell is going on in that Mark Zuckerberg photo?

This is real.

Need to Know

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg posted an image to his Facebook feed (above) that appeared to be an artfully-made Photoshop job.

A slack-jawed audience of hundreds (only men are visible but presumably there are women present) sits in a darkened auditorium, heads pitched at random angles, all strapped in to a Samsung Gear virtual reality rig. Meanwhile, a VR-less Zuckerberg strides down the aisle in his casual Friday best, a big grin on his face.

The effect is somewhere between a magician’s blindfold and Skynet, an uncanny combination of the bizarre and banal that so often fuels the tech’s utopian fantasies or dark nightmares.

So what the hell is going on here?

The image comes from Zuckerberg’s surprise appearance at Samsung’s Mobile World Congress presentation in Barcelona yesterday. Attendees were invited to demo Samsung and Oculus’ new VR gear from their seats; when they were allowed to disconnect from the matrix, there was the Facebook cofounder, standing center stage.

Zuckerberg went on to laud the future of virtual reality outside of just gaming (a crucial point, given Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift in 2014). “VR is going to be the most social platform. Now, that’s also why we’ve worked with Samsung, to deliver Gear VR. Gear VR is by far the best mobile VR experience,” he said. “And that’s because it combines the best hardware, from Samsung, with the best software — from Facebook, with Oculus.”

The company also announced the creation of a new “social VR” team dedicated to building out VR’s community potential, which the Financial Times speculates “could look something like Second Life… or the science fiction concept of the Metaverse, a vast online community where digital avatars mingled on a virtual-reality high street, created by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash.”

The Oculus Rift itself is scheduled to begin shipping in a month.

Now go forth (and strap in).